Belgium

Once Chris and Kat left, I started sleeping a little more and relaxing. I felt like I hadn’t seen my friends in a while so I spent a lot of time during the week catching up with them which was nice! On Wednesday we had a field trip to the Imperial War museum and it was really cool. It was much bigger than we thought and there were a ton of different galleries that we spent the afternoon going through. My favorite section was the Holocaust exhibit, but it was obviously really sad to go through the whole thing. When we left the museum, the weather was beautiful, so we spent a little while walking around before heading back to the dorms for homework and laundry.

We left for Belgium early on Thursday morning and arrived in Brussels before noon. We walked to our hotel and got settled in before heading out for a walking tour. We planned to do the walking tour for a few hours and then split up to do our own thing, but we literally spent the whole afternoon walking around the entire city of Brussels. We stopped in a ‘traditional fast food’ restaurant for lunch. There were french fries, fried meat, hamburger-type things and a whole collection of fried foods. I decided on ‘frites’ and chicken nuggets—a meal that you can’t go wrong with :) It was delicious and they had so many different sauces for the frites, and the one I got was delicious. We ate outside—the weather was gorgeous—and enjoyed the sun. Toward the end of our meal, a homeless man came and sat at a table near us. Any time anyone would finish their food, he would yell at them in french and end up getting their left-overs. I have never seen someone eat in such a disgusting way in my life. We were all absolutely repulsed, so as soon as we were all finished eating we left. As I got up, he kept yelling things at me in French, so one of our trip ‘chaperones’ took my stuff over to him because he didn’t want me going over there. It was a very interesting experience to say the least!

After lunch, we continued walking around the city and hit the main square of Brussels. It is the cutest area and literally looks exactly like I’ve always pictured Europe. The square had a lot of outdoor cafes and restaurants and the square was enclosed by big, beautiful buildings. There were chocolate stores everywhere we looked, so we spent the day going in and out of the different ones obsessing about the chocolate and getting free samples :) Needless to say, the chocolate was amazing and we all became obsessed. We saw all of the major spots in Brussels, including the Royal Palace, Musical Instruments Museum and Orangery. When it got dark, we ended our tour at a bar near the main square that had over 2,000 different kinds of beer. We all tried a different kind before heading out to get dinner. We had dinner at a really touristy restaurant where the food wasn’t great, but I actually got some decent beef! We decided to get waffles for dessert. We got them at a little cart and took them to the middle of the square where we sat down and ate them. It was amazing! We decided to go back to the bar for a little while before heading back to the hotel to go to bed.

On Friday morning, we got up early and left the hotel to go to the European Commission. We had a meeting for about two hours where we learned all about the European Union and how it functions. None of us knew anything about it, so it was actually really interesting to learn about it. When we finished with our lecture, we walked around the whole political area and went to the European Parliament building. We couldn’t really go anywhere else because there was a meeting for all of the representatives from each country, so a lot of the areas were blocked off. The Parliament building had a room that had a ton of free stuff, so we went in and got posters, pamphlets, postcards, etc. After the Parliament building, we split up and a group of us decided to get lunch in the area, in a place called Luxembourg Square. We ate at an American-style bar called Fat Boys and literally had the best hamburgers that we’ve had in months. Needless to say, we were all really happy with our meal. When we finished, we took a bus to the main square and went in and out of all of the different shops, just hanging out. We went back to the hotel to drop things off and rest for a little while before going back to Luxembourg Square for happy hour. We left the square after a few hours and went back to the main square to get waffles for dinner and check out more bars in the area. After a little while, we were all pretty tired and went back to the hotel to go to bed.

On Saturday morning we checked out of the hotel and left to go to Brugge. The train there took about an hour and it was ridiculously busy. We ended up having to sit on the floor barely able to move, but at least we made it to Brugge! When we got there, we walked around for a little while and fell in love with it. It’s an adorable little town with shops, cafes and canals everywhere. We got lunch at an outdoor cafe in the center of town before walking around the canals. We were going to do a canal tour, but the lines were ridiculous, so we settled for walking around them :) We went through a big street/ antique fair that was really cute. There were horses and carriages all over the town and I couldn’t get over how cute it was. The weather got pretty cold and we weren’t really prepared for it since it had been beautiful for the past few days, so we decided to go inside a cafe to get Belgian hot chocolate. It was seriously the most delicious hot chocolate I’ve ever had and the portions were huge—I couldn’t even finish it and that’s saying a lot! When we finished it was time to catch the train back to Brussels so that we could take the Eurostar to London. Two girls were late, so we ended up missing the train that we were supposed to take because we all had to wait for them. We were all really annoyed, but luckily made it back to Brussels in time to catch our Eurostar. When we got back to London we were all exhausted from literally walking around for three days, so we went to bed once we got back to our rooms.

Belgium was amazing and I absolutely loved it. I went with a really great group of people and we loved our ‘chaperones’. They were really nice and knew so much about Belgium, so showed us all around but let us do our own thing as well. Obviously the food was amazing and I don’t know how I’ll ever eat normal chocolate again! I bought a lot to bring home for everyone :)

On Sunday, I couldn’t even sleep in since I’m used to waking up early. It was a gorgeous day, so I decided to get up and walk around London for a little while. I left the dorms and wandered around for a few hours before getting Subway (finally!) and heading back to the dorms. I ran into a few of my friends and they were going to Hyde Park to hang out, so I joined them and went to the park until it started to get colder (around 4). It was so nice sitting in the sun in London (for the first time) and people watch. I couldn’t believe how many people were in the park throughout the day! We went to dinner near our dorms at night and literally stayed there for like three hours talking. Overall, it was a really nice and relaxing day!

I’ve had a lot of homework and things to take care of during the past few days, so i’ve spent a lot of time working on that. Bryanna comes tomorrow and we’ll have a busy few days trying to get everything in! We’re going to a Taylor Swift concert tomorrow night and I’m so excited!

Kat & Chris Visit

On Sunday morning I went to meet Kat & Chris at the airport when their flight got in. They were pretty tired, but decided not to nap in the afternoon so that their sleep schedule could get as normal as possible ASAP. After checking into the hotel and relaxing for a little while, we decided that we would go sight-seeing for a little while. We went down to Piccadilly Circus and walked to Trafalgar Square, where there was a big festival celebrating Saint Patricks Day. There were a ton of people, a band, food/souvenir stands and our personal favorite, an old woman dancing and juggling. It was a little overwhelming there, so we only stayed for a little while, but Kat definitely enjoyed a little bit of Ireland in London :) We headed toward the Thames River and the London Eye—we decided to ride the ferris wheel. I still hadn’t gotten the chance to ride it, so it was perfect! We ended up being on the eye at sunset, which was really cool because we got to see the views in both the night and day. It was so pretty! We walked along the river and headed back toward their hotel for dinner. We ended up eating at a little Italian restaurant down nearby and it was delicious—good to know for my next month and a half! They were exhausted after dinner, and I had a paper to write, so we went our own ways at that point.

I met them at their hotel on Monday morning and we went to the Tower of London. I hadn’t done that yet either and it was really cool. We got to see a lot of the armor from various Kings—it was really interesting to see how big some of them were, and how small others were. We wandered in and out of the different buildings and Kat & I naturally liked the Jewel Room the best. We got to see all of the crowns from the Kings and they were beautiful—so many diamonds and jewels were on them. Needless to say, we were obsessed with them. After the Tower of London, we went to get lunch at a pub before I had to leave for class. When I left, they planned to go to Westminster Abbey, but when they got there it was closed for a special event. After asking around, they learned that the Queen was supposed to be arriving sometime in the next 15 minutes for the event, so obviously, they decided that they would wait. Sure enough, they got to see the Queen arriving to Westminster Abbey. I am so jealous; I have been here for 2 1/2 months and have yet to see any royalty, and after being here for about 24 hours, they just casually ran into the Queen! After class, I met them at the National Theatre, where we waited for about 2 hours to get tickets to see Frankenstein that night. After dinner we saw the show, which was really well done, but I had no idea how messed up the whole story is. It was an interesting experience to say the least.

  On Tuesday, I had class until 1:20, so Kat & Chris decided that they would do a bus tour of London that morning. They did a hop-on-hop-off tour that Bob, Margie and I did last week, and because they didn’t get the chance to tour Westminster Abbey on Monday, they decided that they would get off there and do a tour. They ended up getting to my dorm around 3:30, so we decided that we would go eat a quick lunch/dinner before catching our train to Paris. Our train got into Paris around 9:30 and after we checked into our hotel, we decided to go get crepes (obviously one of the first things necessary in Paris). We all got banana and nutella crepes and loved them—it was Chris’ first crepe! We were pretty exhausted, so called it a night once we were done eating.

We got up on Wednesday morning and went to Notre Dame. We walked through the church before getting on another hop-on-hop-off bus tour. This tour was pretty cool because there were three different lines, and if you took them all then you would literally see all of Paris. We started on the line that went to the most popular attractions— Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, The Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, etc. We got off at Arc de Triumph and after figuring out how to get to it, walked up to the top. I didn’t get to do that last time I went to Paris (and didn’t even know you could), so that was really cool. You could literally see everything from the top, but it was pretty foggy, so that made it more difficult. Once we got down, we got lunch and went to the most famous macaroon place in Paris that I’ve heard a lot about. We got a few and decided that we would share them all, tasting all of the different flavors (there were so many different kinds). They looked delicious and we couldn’t wait to eat them. We wandered around the area for a little while before getting back on the bus to see the rest of Paris. When we got on the bus, we decided to taste our first macaroon, only to find out that they gave us the wrong box :( We no longer got any chocolate or lemon, and were stuck with other random ones, including a Black Licorice one (and we all HATE black licorice). Needless to say, we were all very sad about it.

Our next stop was the Eiffel Tower. We walked up to the first level and hung out there for a while, looking at the views, watching a movie about the Eiffel Tower and Gustave Eiffel and wandering through the gift shops. We took an elevator up higher and wandered around up there. I love being on the Eiffel Tower and am so glad that I got to do it again! When we got down from the tower, we got back on our bus and decided to switch to a different line to see more of Paris, like the Bastille, etc. By the time we finished that line, the bus tours were closed for the day, so we went back to the hotel for a little while before going to dinner nearby.

  On Thursday we got up and went to the Louvre. I’m still overwhelmed by how huge the Louvre is and can’t imagine seeing everything inside. We saw the major attractions inside—it was so crowded and hard to get close to things! We wandered around the smaller exhibits for a while too, taking pictures throughout our entire visit. After the Louvre, we decided to get on the final bus line and see Moulin Rouge on our way to Sacré Coeur Basilica. We walked to up to the Basilica and wandered through the church. There were some street performers near the church, so we sat on the steps and watched them for a little while. We headed down from the church to a major touristy area. We got crepes for lunch and sat at a park to eat them before wandering through several of the souvenir shops. We went back to the Notre Dame area (which was near our hotel as well) and did some more souvenir shopping before getting dinner and catching our train back to London.

On Friday, we planned to do the outdoor markets and if we had time, go through the parks and just wander around, but it was rainy the whole day, so our plans had to change. We started our day off at Harrods and wandered around the different levels and shops inside. We had lunch in a kids “Treehouse” restaurant which was actually really delicious and there was SO much food. It was also really crowded there, so after wandering around for a little while, we decided to go somewhere else. Unfortunately it was still raining, so we got a cab and asked him to take us to the nearest movie theater. We ended up at a theater that was showing Kings Speech like 10 minutes later, which was perfect because I’ve heard really good things about it and had wanted to see it. It was so good and I really like it—it was cool getting to see all of the London areas in the movie and actually know where they were! When the movie was over, the weather had cleared up, so we went to the Covent Gardens market and went through the whole thing (lots of shops and stands) before getting dinner in the area. I went back to Kat & Chris’ hotel and hung out with them for a while before coming back to my dorm. Since they were leaving the next morning, I said goodbye to them that night. It was sad to say goodbye, but we had a really good week and I had a lot of fun hanging out with them!

This weekend has been pretty low-key. I’ve been catching up on sleep and with friends! Yesterday after relaxing in the morning, I went back to Covent Gardens and hung out there for the afternoon/evening with some of my friends. We just stayed in last night and hung out instead of going out. Today has basically been the same and I’m just updating pictures/my blog and getting ready for classes tomorrow!

Roma & Firenze

Bob & Margie arrived in London on Saturday afternoon and after problems with hotels and getting in contact, I was finally able to find them (and randomly appeared in their hotel room). We decided that we would go see Jersey Boys that night, and headed to the theater district to wander around and have dinner. We ate at a pub right across from the theater and it had great food—probably one of the best meals I’ve gotten in London. We had perfect timing and went directly to the show when we were done, with a few minutes to spare. We had great seats and were able to see everything really clearly. The show was amazing and it was really interesting to learn about The Four Seasons and all of the problems that they faced together. Although I knew most of their songs, I had no idea that they were all sung by the same group, so everything was new to me. We loved it and I would definitely like to go see it again sometime!

We got to sleep in a little on Sunday and didn’t have any major plans for the day. We headed over to my dorms and spent a little time there before going to Kensington High Street for lunch. We ate at a little French cafe which was good, but the service wasn’t great. We left lunch and walked around Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park for a while before catching a bus to Stansted airport. We were catching a flight to Italy on Monday morning at 6:10 am (with a final boarding call at 5:40), so we decided to spend the night at a hotel close to the airport.

It was brutal getting up so early on Monday, but definitely worth it. Getting through the airport was painless (despite the fact that it was ridiculously busy for 5 am) and the flight was really easy. We were at our hotel (across from the Colosseum) in Rome by 11 am and after checking in, went to lunch. Lunch was amazing (as per usual in Italy) and really close to our hotel. We got a driver for the afternoon and he gave us a tour of the city for three hours. We literally got to see everything in Rome and got out at the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and a few churches. We decided to have dinner at the hotel and once our tour ended, had a little bit of time to rest before dinner. Dinner was awesome and since they noticed it was Bobbys birthday earlier in the day when they saw his passport, they played happy birthday to him and put the dessert in front of him with a big candle/sparkler. It was really cool—and spending the day in Italy wasn’t a bad way to spend a birthday either!

On Tuesday we drove into Florence and struggled getting out of Rome and into Florence. The maps are terrible, the streets don’t make sense, there are no lanes and the drivers are all insane. There are so many stupid mopeds everywhere, and the people who drive them aren’t afraid of anything. Needless to say, it was really exciting when we finally made it to the hotel in Florence in the afternoon. We went to get a “snack” (which in my case was pizza) and then wandered around the streets surrounding our hotel. There were lots of shops and stands everywhere, so we spent a while wandering around (and ended up getting lost before making it back to the hotel). We went to dinner that our hotel recommended and it was so good. I love meals in Italy because it’s more of an event than it is anywhere else—you stay at the restaurants for a long time and just enjoy it. It’s much more relaxing than it is at home.

Wednesday was a big day—we planned to see the major things in Florence all day and then drive back into Rome in the evening. We got up and went to a church directly across from our hotel, Santa Maria Novella, and spent a while wandering around in there and learning about Florence’s history. From there, we went to the Duomo, where we went inside the museum and Baptistry. We walked through several streets in Florence (getting Gelato along the way, of course) and made our way to the Uffizi gallery, though we didn’t plan to go inside. There were statues and fountains surrounding the museum (with a replica of David), so we spent sometime around there before going down to the Arno River. We went back up to the Academia so that we could see the real David. We were all amazed by the David because it’s HUGE. I had no idea that he is 17 feet tall, so we stared at him in awe for a while. Once we left the Academia, we went back to the hotel to start our trek back to Rome. We decided to go to dinner in Tuscany and literally spent an hour driving around in the countryside trying to find a restaurant—apparently they don’t eat there. Bobby saw a sign for a restaurant, so we went down a terrifying (basically one-way) road in the dark with a car following right behind us. Margie and I thought that we were going to die, but we actually made it out okay. We talked to a woman who told us (at 6:30pm) that we were really early for dinner and if we waited 30-45 minutes we could probably find one that would be open. We drove around and still failed to find one, so went back the way that we came from. We made it to one right at 7 (when it was opening) and were literally the first people inside. The food was delicious and we definitely chose the right restaurant— we all loved what we got to eat. After dinner, we finished our drive into Rome and struggled to find the hotel. We stopped in a hotel and the man told Margie that we were at least 20 minutes away from the Colosseum (and our hotel), so we got a cab driver to lead the way for us. We ended up being less than five minutes away, so I think that hotel worker needs a new job. We finally made it to bed around 1 and had another long day ahead of us on Thursday.

We got up on Thursday and went to the Vatican. The museum is so much bigger than I expected, and we spent forever trying to make our way to the Sistine Chapel. It was well worth the maze though because it was incredible. I’ve learned about it in school, but actually getting to see it in real life was really cool. Bobby had a guidebook with him and read what all of the different scenes meant. We spent a long time in there before following the guidebooks advice and sneaking out with a tour group through a special exit that led directly to Saint Peter’s Basilica, saving us a 30 minute walk (thanks Rick Steve). The church is giant and there are so many details and different things to look at throughout the building—it was amazing. After the Vatican, we went to lunch in an area called Campo de’Fiori, which has a bunch of little restaurants, shops and an outdoor market. We sat on the patio with the sun on us, so I actually got hot for the first time outside! After lunch we went to the Colosseum and wandered through it. It was massive and really cool to see in person as well. We had a flight on Thursday night, so headed out of Rome and ate dinner near the airport. Our flight was easy again, but it took us over an hour to get through customs in London (at midnight!). We finally got to our hotel and into bed around 1:45—needless to say, we were all exhausted.

Luckily we got to sleep in on Friday morning before catching a bus into London. We got into the city in the early afternoon and checked into our hotel/ dropped off our bags before getting lunch at a pub. We did a bus tour in the afternoon and got to see all of the major things in London (Westmister Abbey, House of Parliament, the Eye, the Thames, Buckingham Palace, etc.) during our three hours on the bus. We went to Harrods, the biggest department store in London (with all of the high-end stores and ridiculous prices) to see it and have dinner. We ate at a great Tapas Bar and all of the food was amazing. We wandered through the rest of the food/candy before getting gelato (also in Harrods) and heading back to the hotel.

Bob & Margie left early this morning which was sad, but it was great getting to spend the week with them. It was so much fun getting to tour Italy/ London together and show them where I live/ introduce them to some of my friends. After saying goodbye, I spent the rest of the day organizing my life- laundry, cleaning, homework, catching up with friends, and now blogging- to get ready for the arrival of Kat & Chris tomorrow! It’s definitely nice to have family time in the middle of being away :)